Artists on Art: Retail Space on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
I first encountered Retail Space through their album In the Lotia, described on their Bandcamp page as an attempt “to define Lotia … as a middle ground, like the moment between awake and asleep.” I have been fascinated by such places for years, worlds neither here nor there, and I find their version of that floating place irresistible— its hazy mixture of keyboard and guitar noise and vocals of great melodic beauty, naïveté, hurt, yearning. Really, I find Retail Space’s pop the perfect pop music for writing to, for it is music that transports, and brings your mind to wandering. So I was very glad that they agreed take some time during their recent tour to discuss the influence of Jules Verne on their newest album.
RS: When we were in the middle of writing our most recent record, You Can Catch A Lobster With Eggs But Not Egg Salad, we happened upon Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. While reading it, Jacob found the last page of Part I, when Professor Aronnax and Captain Nemo discuss the burial ground for Nemo’s crew, particularly inspiring. This passage describes a sad place where nothing can harm or disturb someone and that place seemed like an interesting setting to set a song:
He buried his face quickly in his hands, vainly trying to suppress a sob. Then he added, ‘That is our peaceful cemetery several hundred feet beneath the surface of the ocean’
‘At least there, Captain, Your dead can sleep quietly, beyond the reach of sharks.’
‘Yes,’ Captain Nemo replied gravely ‘beyond the reach of sharks and of men.’
We ended up doing this with a piece called “Underneath” which is a song about a character reflecting on a failed relationship and their desire for their lover to stay with them in this setting. It is also one of the first songs we arranged for the record with a more upbeat island-y feel that we thought nicely accented the watery setting of the lyrics. In the end this song would play a crucial role in the story of the record, but we had no idea at the time.
Our process during the creation of a record revolves around writing a large batch of songs with a vast range of lyrical concepts over a short period of time and then editing down to the best songs to make the record. Inherently this process brings about a general concept that a majority of songs revolve around. Upon choosing 16 of the 33 songs we had written we began to notice an interplay between the last song on side A, “How Far Would You Go,” and the first song on side B, “Underneath.” Separate from each other they were watery songs about failed love, but together they seemed to suggest that the character from “How Far Would You Go” had sunken down into the watery grave of Captain Nemo’s crew which was the setting of “Underneath.” It is a place of lonely peace where the sinking lover can take sanctuary in the distant echo-y pangs of the failed relationship, its hazy-blue world paralleling the lyrics of the song. This interplay helped us establish a loose concept for the LP, which tells the story of an ending relationship between two lovers, one trapped in the sinking depths of the sea and the other watching from land. From this story we then picked and placed the other 9 songs where they seemed to fit. If they were before this climatic moment of sinking we put them on the first side and if they were after we placed them on the second.
We feel that no matter if we’re listening to music on a Friday night or sinking into the world of an album on a Monday, the process of interacting with music is just like reading a good book. As the consumer you are falling into an alternate world of the artist and living for a split second in the confines of that person’s creation. However, it is sometimes easier to garner inspiration from works in mediums other than the one you are working in, because it is easier to remove yourself from the technicalities those mediums. It can also result in opening up creative pathways that you had never thought to go down and lead to results you would never expect.
Download and listen to In the Lotia here.